Afghan Women Earn Army Commissions
By Ian Graham
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2010 In a sign of the changing face of Afghanistan’s security forces, a new class of female officer candidates accepted commissions into the Afghan army today.
Women from the first graduating class of the Afghan National Army Female Officer Candidate School in Kabul, Afghanistan, stand for the playing of the national anthem during their graduation ceremony, Sept. 23, 2010. Twenty-nine Afghan women completed 20 weeks of training, which included 8 weeks of basic training and 12 weeks of advanced training in logistics and finance. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Laura R. McFarlane
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Capt. Janis Lullen and Army 1st Sgt. Kristin J. Norton from the 95th Training Division of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan joined a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable to discuss the first graduating class of female officer candidates and their efforts in training future female army officers for the Afghan army.
The 20-week course began in May. Before enrollment, women are required to have completed at least a high school education. Of the 29 graduating students, Lullen said, about 20 percent have a college degree. The next class is scheduled to have as many as 150 students.
The students were recruited from across Afghanistan, and represent the many ethnic groups that live in the nation.
“As far as how the women in Afghanistan as a whole are educated, I honestly cannot answer that,” Lullen said. “But for the women that did come into the female OCS course, yes, they were intelligent, and they were educated.”
The first weeks of the five-month course were designed to successfully transition officer candidates into a military environment. Norton said a vital element, physical fitness, was the most difficult, but the trainees were eager and completed the training despite its difficulty.
“They had never been in any type of military realm, ever,” Norton said. “So, of course, the physical fitness was a huge part of it, and then also getting them to understand the concept of time management. Also, [we worked on] getting them to the concept of taking ownership -- if you're going to be the class leader, lead the class.
“We molded the students into realizing that, ‘You are no longer just a civilian. You're in the military now, and the military has a structure that we have to follow,’” she added.
The curriculum is identical to men’s courses. The trainees also got classroom training on assault rifles: the M-16, M-240 and M-249. They also trained with M-9 handguns.
Following the first eight weeks, the female officer candidates transitioned to specialty training in logistics and finance before receiving their commissions as second lieutenants.
“We've taken them through 12 weeks of branch-specific training in both finance and logistics, and these ladies are very intelligent,” Lullen said. “They are up for the task.”
The women join the Afghan army in the face of a very conservative view on gender roles in Afghan society. Lullen and Norton said they’ve risen to their status in spite of that, and it hasn’t been easy.
“So far with the [Afghan soldiers] that we have worked with, it has been very accepted, but we can't gauge for how it's going to be accepted by everybody,” Norton acknowledged. “To gauge how widespread it will be, it's hard for us to say. That's a call we can't make at this point.”
Lullen said because the Afghan army still is mentor-heavy, the women will have some support in the form of NATO advisors. They won’t be “thrown to the wolves,” she said.
Norton said she volunteered for the job because she wanted to be a part of history. Lullen agreed, noting that training the first round of female officers in the Afghan army is a big step in the nation’s military development, and adding that she’s proud to be part of the process.
“I think that's why we all volunteered to do it,” Norton added. “It was just invigorating to watch these girls grow. I mean, they really came a long way, … and we're excited to see what they do in the [army] in the future.”